Can you tell me a little bit about you?
I currently split my time between Boston, MA, and Providence, RI, with a studio wedged in a suburban town in the middle. I completed my MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University in 2017 and immediately moved my studio from Boston to the suburbs to get way more square footage at a cheaper price. My practice is rooted in painting and photography, increasingly layering in elements of sculpture and video.
When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
When I was a young child I would always ask for disposable cameras for my birthday, but did not realize I wanted to make art as a career until my father suddenly passed away when I was 18. I initially wanted to be a creative writing major, but that fizzled out when I realized I didn’t have the stamina for language like I thought. A few months after my father died I enrolled in a photography course in college only because it fit into my schedule, but immediately realized I was neglecting the rest of my courses because I was spending so much time in the dark room. I never took art classes in high school and didn’t fully understand how it could fit into my life, but taking that photography course was a creative outlet I didn’t know I needed.
What do you like most about working where you do?
I love my studio space because it is removed from the metropolitan art bubble. Not only is it cheaper, but the other tenants in the mill building range from artists, antiques dealers, carpenters, or bakeries. It is a blue collar, quiet community. It feels nice to be removed a bit from the rush of Boston because there are also less distractions, like meeting friends at a bar or something.
What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
I have a sincere interest in truth and transformation of materials and narratives. The physicality of mundane materials in creating layers is a compulsion I can’t shake- physically cutting, layering, altering, and piecing together fragments. I freely misapply traditional methods of painting and photography to build surfaces with paint, silver gelatin prints, plastic, light bulbs: really anything I can get my hands on. I love the idea of collecting things with different narratives or histories and combining them, creating what almost appears as materials pretending to be something else. Often the ideas begin as something that is distilled and reduced to something completely different from its origins, with subtle hints or allusions to something distant.
What is your process like?
Sometimes a piece only takes an afternoon, and I have some paintings I have been chipping away at for a few years now. I do a lot of research through the internet- saving screenshots, downloading low resolution files that relate to my father or people I’ve never met. I tend to hoard materials or pictures for years with absolutely no clue of where or how to enlist them. Because of this slow creep of a process I tend to work on a lot of different projects at one time. A new thing I have been trying is taking photos of things in progress on my phone, and using the pen tool in photos to test out different compositional changes. I like this process because it’s something I can do remotely, and allows me to try some ideas out quickly.
Is there any subject or theme you’ve been particularly interested in lately?
I have been really fascinated by this idea of ‘post-internet’ and how deeply entangled people are with technology in every aspect of our lives. I think growing up on the cusp of the internet era, I remember being a teenager without a cell phone or steady internet connection. There is a shift in how we perceive and remember things differently.
What is the strangest thing you’ve ever had to do for art?
Climbing into the attic of an abandoned building.
Do you have a day job or other work that you split your time between?
I teach art at two different colleges, and I love how it makes me constantly relearn things or teach myself new skills. It is one thing to understand how to mix paint, but another to verbalize it to someone who isn’t aware of the fancy paint names yet. I really enjoy allowing my students to develop bizarre ideas or approaches to assignments thatI wouldn’t develop on my own. It is really rewarding to see what students come up with as their own aesthetic, and how it shifts over time.
Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice (or both), which has influenced your practice?
I have had some really phenomenal mentors in my life: Mary Dondero, Santiago Cucullu, and Ethan Murrow have been really impactful in shaping how I think about my own ideas. They have given me the tools to allow something to unfold over time and put in the work to shape that initial idea into something compelling. They taught me how that feeling of uncharted territory is scary but fascinating. Kendall Reiss and Megan McMillan have also been really important mentors to me, often giving me advice how to research and work backwards from an idea in creative ways.
Is there any piece of advice you would offer to others?
Sometimes it’s best to lock yourself in a studio for a few months and tell no one what you’re up to.
What does it mean to you to have a “community?”
Community means finding people who support you that you can support back. It is hard to find people who give you quality, honest feedback about what you’re working on. Positive encouragement is great, but just hearing a chorus of people going “this is great! you’re great!” only goes so far. It is important to not be competitive with your art friends, and allow them to shine and be supportive of their accomplishments. Show up to your friends openings and they will show up to yours.
What is your studio like?
Absolute disaster. It has been called a fire hazard a few different times.
Do you have any routines or rituals in the studio that get you into the mode or mindset to make your work?
I start off every studio session with an upbeat, dance song to get my energy up a bit (like Beyonce or Lizzo). I am much more of a morning studio person than a night person, and after I get through my high energy songs I tend to play podcast like My Favorite Murder, The Daily, NPR, and So Many White Guys.
How significant has attending art school been on your practice?
I waited two years after earning my undergrad in art to go to graduate school, but I wish I waited one more year before entering my MFA program. My first semester of grad school I felt everyone knew more than me about theory or skills, and my first year of grad school felt like everything I produced was garbage. However, once I found the right mentors and was able to focus in on what I wanted I think earning an MFA was really important to me. I think the theory was to knock you down really hard, and then sort of piece you back together. That strategy worked for me, because by my last semester I felt the most uninhibited creative and open to new materials and concepts. I think often we find these art heroes and try to align ourselves with them, but working the same way they do and mirroring certain strategies. It was really helpful for me to stop looking at others, whether blue chip artists or others in my cohort, to cut out some of the white noise around my own thinking.
What do you find most daunting, challenging, or frustrating about pursuing art?
Someone once told me the personality of people who become artists are always seeking validation and praise, and a career in art provides very little stability as far as validation and praise. It can be frustrating when one minute you feel like you’re making progress and figuring things out, and then it sort of feels like you fall flat on your face in elementary school other days.
How would you define “success” in art?
Success is having the ability, whether that’s time or money, to be able to make art. If that can be sustained through selling your work, showing your work, or a job completely outside of art than that is success to me. For me it is feeling challenged about making things. I have no interest in painting the same image over and over until I die, but I respect those who enjoy that.
What is the most exciting thing you’ve done or accomplished so far, related to your work?
Meeting James Turrell and talking about my artwork was pretty awesome.
What are you working on right now?
I have dusted off my 5×7 film camera and I am toying with some new ideas. I am also beginning to work on two large (4′ x 15′), site specific paintings for the Rochester Museum of Fine Arts in Rochester, NH.
Find more at douglasbreault.com and on Instagram @dug_bro!
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